The cannon thunders, slashing through the thick anxiety of the morning, marking the start of my first NYC marathon. An emotional hug from my running friend brought both goosebumps and tears. Despite rumors of terrorist threats to destroy the Verrazano Narrows bridge, the courage of over 20,0000 runners who refused to allow the terror of 9/11 from partaking in the marathon was uplifting. My legs began to move, and soon my breathing becomes heavy and labored. The questions that plagued me throughout many months of training course through my mind with each step. How difficult would it be to complete twenty-six mikes when my longest effort was only eighteen? Could I make it past the twenty-mile mark, the so-called “wall”?
As psychiatrist, running has become an antidote for a profession that is primarily sedentary and cerebral. Running allows me to release the day’s stress. Preparation for the marathon required training five days a week during the spring and summer. It was a new sport full of challenge and excitement. Despite the anxiety in not knowing if my body could go the distance, my “long” runs eventually extended to eighteen miles. I grew more confident. Finally, it was marathon morning.
The first twelve miles of the race were difficult and my fear of not finishing was constant. L felt the lack of confidence and an anxiety of failing, because I had never completed a marathon. However, when we approached hills, particularly the Queensboro Bridge, my stride became comfortable. There was the fantasti feeling of being able to run without any effort whatsoever. It was the runner’s high. After descending from the bridge onto First Avenue, the crowds roared. Tens of thousands of people were screaming and cheering at the top of lungs. “That a way to go!” “Looking good!” It was fantastic. My body was totally warmed up and my pace increased. I understood why people go out and run long distances. The feeling cemented my passion for running.
Approaching the twenty-three-mile mark, I still worried about hitting the “wall.” But when I entered Central Park, a quick look around reenergized me. It was familiar ground because this was my training route. The Americans elms, more than century old, were comforting friends. The unique aroma of fall in New York permeated the park. Much to my surprise and amusement, I felt relaxed and my pace began to increase. No matter what happened, I knew I could finish the race; I would become a marathoner. I passes runner after runner. Some would ignore me while others would attempt to hold me off. The physiques and talent of these runners impressed me. The, all of a sudden, at the top of a hill, the finish line appeared. The crowds in the grandstands on both sides of the road were screaming.
Crossing that finish line was exhilaration unlike anything else in my life. The clock read 3 hours and 44 minutes. My first attempt to run a marathon qualified me for the Boston Marathon. Boston is the only marathon thar runners must qualify for based upon time. It is a smaller, more prestigious race that only runners who are typically in the top ten percent, based on age and sex. It was a dream come true.
After much reflection, it seems that the joy I derive from running is associated with four distinct benefits: achievement, socialization, play and an opportunity to help others. The first, the thrill of achievement is about setting and reaching a goal. Part of the long distance training is a process of developing a base of six to eight miles per workout. It was a fantastic experience to see my best efforts of a week or two ago steadily improve. Hills, which most runners dreaded, became opportunities to pas others. Another component of distance running is speed. Again, with training, my speed continued to improve. What a joy to dash along at a six mile pace. It was unbelievable to me that a forty-ish female could compete with college athletes, male and female.
With a couple of marathons under my belt, I started looking for a new challenge, and found it in the Kurt Steiner 50K Event. That’s a distance of over 31 miles. The day of the race, which happened ro be my forty-third birthday, the weather was awful. The temperature stayed in the low twenties and the wind chill factor reached six degrees. Despite cramping, I crossed the finish line and came in second among all females. It was my favorite birthday ever. The accomplishment was beyond anything I ever imagined.
A second benefit of running is that it provides fantastic way of interacting socially with people who share similar values. Most runners enjoy a healthy lifestyle. There is no nicer way to spend a Sunday afternoon than running with a friend in Central Park. As one jogs, conversation flows and mediocre jokes are funny. You meet and greet acquaintances running in both direction and the time passes as you celebrate life. I have developed many friendships while jogging away the miles.
My inspiration to begin running came when I volunteered to run a half marathon as a guide for a disabled runner. I accompanied a twenty-year-old Jamaican man, who uses a wheelchair, for the last thirteen miles of the race. Upon finishing, I immediately got hooked on road racing and wanted to experience for myself the emotion and exhilaration of runners completing the marathon.
A third benefit of the sport is the opportunity to “play.” It is a powerful tool for personal development. While running, I can let go of all my stress of the day and regress to an earlier time in childhood when life seemed more care free. It was a time when hard work resulted in success. When one practices medicine, There is only some correlation between effort and success. Efforts put forth in a therapeutic relationship are not always related to a patient’s emotional growth. Sometimes, routine treatment results in dramatic success. On other occasions, great insight and effort result in no improvement. With running, however, additional mileage and speed improve my endurance and race times. It’s reassuring for life to be fair; the effort one puts in to reaching a goal, is related to the achieving it.
The fourth benefit of running is an opportunity to reach out to others. Both psychiatry and running permit me to improve my self-esteem and quality of life by helping others. I am legally blind in my right eye. Running allows me to feel good about myself and to help others with disabilities have a similar feeling. It’s given me the opportunity to do further good: start a disabled running club in war-torn Chechnya, bring mamined Chechen children to NYC for medical care, function as a guide for the blind and disabled during various races.
I became involved in a research study to test the effect of running on increasing the T-Cell count of South African children with AIDS. It required traveling to the city of Durban. Now thoroughly hooked, I decided to combine the research effort with running the Comrades Marathon. It is fifty-six mile race between Pietermaritzburg and Durban, which attracts over 10,00 runners who have qualified. It is the greatest and largest ultra-marathon i n the world.
On race day, despite mot training sufficiently as a result of a medical issue, I found myself feeling strangely confident. Five hours into the race, we passed the Ethanbeni School for the physically disabled, blind, and HIV-positive orphaned children. It was near the middle of the course and it was the site of our AIDS research. The entire school came out and rooted me on like crazy. They were my cheering squad and friends who inspired me to finish the next thirty hilly miles in their honor.
Along the route, marked by amazing twist inclines and downhills, I met many passionate international runners who had completed Comrades numerous times. Their positive, upbeat outlook supported me in my effort to finish the fifty-six miles. I completed the event in ten hours and 38 minutes, winning a bronze medal for my efforts. I had the euphoric feeling of good, a “high” that lasted days.
Running allows me to be more expensive and a make a positive contribution to society, while at the same time enriching my life. For that I am thankful. Can’t wait to get out there again!
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